I received the following email early this morning, and reproduce it here very slightly edited with photos in place of links:
Dear Mr. Smeltzer,
I found your page doing some research on photograph that I recently acquired, and I am wondering if you can help me with it.
I believe, though I am by no means sure, that this is a portrait of a Fire Zouave. I will attach links to scans of the image, a sixth plate (2.5 x 3.5 inches) tintype:
1) The tintype, in its case:
2) A larger scan of the full plate, out of its frame, showing the horn:
3) A close-up of the fire horn and kepi:
4) A reversed scan of the lettering on the horn:
The evidence that he might be a Fire Zouave is as follows:
A) Dark (blue?) pants, which the 11th wore.
B) Red (tinted on the image) fireman’s shirt, with plastron. Also worn by the 11th.
C) The kepi with an oilcloth cover.
Most intriguing — and maddeningly so — is the lettering on the base of the horn. I can make out two S’s, with what looks like an I between them. After the second S, there looks to be either a T or an apostrophe followed by a letter. The I is possibly a numeral 1, in which case it might be “1st”. In any event, I can’t make out what the whole word would be. Probably either a town name or the name of his engine company.
My hypothesis is that this is a new recruit, displaying his two allegiances: to his firefighting unit and to his military unit.
Any help or hunches you might have would be greatly appreciated! As you can imagine, I am dying to get to the bottom on this image….
Professor and Chair, Philosophy Department
I’m undecided. The fireman’s shirt this fellow is wearing is a little different from that of Francis Brownell, on display at MNBP – the belt is different too, but I think each fire company had their own:
It is true that after a few weeks in the field the 11th NY ditched their blue-gray Zouave togs for Union blue, but they kept the red shirts as part of their ensemble. However, there were other regiments recruited from fire companies that may also have worn the shirts; it’s also possible this photo depicts a soldier in more casual dress. The horn could be a fire horn, could belong to the subject, or may simply be a photographer’s prop.
I know there are some readers out there who specialize in zouves, and some in portraits and photography, and some in the 11th NY specifically. What do you all think?